Wounds often need prompt and proper care to ensure best results in healing. Try to determine whether you can treat it yourself or need help from a veterinarian. Even in serious injuries, what you do for the horse as you wait for the veterinarian can make a difference in the final outcome.
Dr. David Wilson (Professor of Equine Surgery, University of Missouri) says it’s wise to have a veterinarian look at any wound, especially if it’s near a joint. Proper care may prevent joint infection.
Photo Credit Megan Parks Photography
“If there’s extensive bleeding, apply a pressure bandage first, regardless of whether the wound is clean or not. Even if there’s a chunk of wood or foreign material in the wound, your vet can take it out later,” says Wilson.
For an instant pressure bandage to halt blood flow from a spurting artery, place clean towels or other cloth material (several layers) over the wound and wrap it in place with a support bandage or leg wrap. Several layers of clean towel directly over a leg wound, held in place with a stretchy bandage or leg wrap, will usually halt bleeding.
“If that doesn’t stop blood flow (and it’s leaking swiftly through the bandage), another pressure bandage should be applied over the first one. Just keep layering until there’s enough pressure to slow the bleeding,” says Wilson.
If the wound is on the body where it’s hard to bandage, put a clean towel over it and apply pressure with your hands until the vet arrives. If you need to secure the bandage to the horse’s torso, fold a towel into layers and hold it in place with blanket straps, bungee straps or other strapping around the body.
Many people try to clean a wound with whatever antiseptic they have on hand, and then apply their favorite medication. “Some of these will hinder healing, especially if it needs to be sutured. Just control the bleeding, then have your veterinarian deal with the wound,” he advises.
A fresh wound (less than 2 hours old) is considered contaminated but not infected. A contaminated wound merely has germs and dirt on the surface and you can wash this away. An infected wound has had more time (or was immediately contaminated with dirt and manure) for bacteria to penetrate tissues and start multiplying.
If a wound is really dirty, some veterinarians suggest adding a little iodine to warm water or saline solution, for rinsing it. Dilute the mix until it looks like root beer. The water dilutes the iodine so it’s not harsh and irritating.
A product commonly misused is hydrogen peroxide. This should not be used on raw tissue because it’s irritating. Hydrogen peroxide should only be used to clean a grossly dirty/contaminated wound that’s caked with dried blood/dirt/manure. The bubbling, foaming action can penetrate the debris and loosen it up. It’s also effective when cleaning out a deep abscess, or removing dried blood and dirt from surrounding hair on intact skin.
Chlorhexadine is useful for cleaning wounds, and can be diluted with water. Both iodine and chlorhexadine are inactivated, however, if they come in contact with organic material like straw or manure. Chlorhexadine should never be used in a joint wound because it can irritate joint surfaces.
Pressure from a hose is often adequate to clean dirt and debris/dead tissue from a wound and is not irritating to skin and raw tissue. As long as it’s not a puncture wound (and you might be driving foreign material deeper with water pressure), cold water hosing is beneficial. The cold is soothing, reducing pain and swelling.
Heather Smith Thomas has raised and trained horses for 50 years and has been writing about them nearly that long, selling numerous stories and articles and publishing 20 books. She and her husband raise beef cattle and horses on their ranch near Salmon, Idaho.